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Hamelin v. Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare

January 26, 2009




Plaintiffs Dawn Hamelin, Rakiesha Griffin, and Julie Flint, each claiming to be a current or former employee of defendant Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare, have commenced this action against that and several other entities, alleged to be "related organizations", as well as two individual defendants asserting, inter alia, that they have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. In the claim relevant to the issues now before the court plaintiffs maintain that defendants' meal break deduction policy and the automatic payroll deduction protocol through which it is implemented, in combination with chronic understaffing and the expectations of administrators that employees be available, including during meal breaks, to attend to patient care demands, have resulted in the defendants' failure to properly compensate their hourly employees.

The three named plaintiffs, who have since been joined by several other current or former employees of defendants consenting to become plaintiffs in the action, now seek the court's permission to have the matter proceed as a collective action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). In their motion, plaintiffs request that notice be sent to all of defendants' current and former hourly employees whose pay at any time over the past three years was subject to an automatic meal deduction even when performing compensable work during all or portions of a break period, advising them of the pendency of the suit and their opportunity to opt in as plaintiffs.

Having carefully considered plaintiffs' request and the record now before the court, applying the relatively generous standard for granting such requests at this procedural juncture, I conclude that plaintiffs have only partially met their burden of demonstrating that the proposed class members are all similarly situated. Accordingly, I will permit the matter to proceed as a collective action, with necessary information being provided by the defendants and notice given to effectuate this end, only with respect to current and former hourly employees with direct patient care responsibilities working at either of the two hospital campuses operated by Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare, as well as those of a similar description employed at St. Luke's Home Residential Health Care Facility, Inc. ("St. Luke's Home"), but will otherwise deny plaintiffs' application, without prejudice.


At this early stage, not a great deal is known regarding either the three named plaintiffs or the twenty-seven defendants listed. Plaintiffs' complaint states only that at relevant times they were employees, for purposes of both the FLSA and the New York Labor Law, and employed within this district, without disclosing either their positions or the identities of their respective employers. See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 73. Affirmations given in support of the instant application for permission to proceed as a collective action by the three named plaintiffs and four other individuals who have consented to join in the action are only slightly more revealing. Each of those affirmations recites that the particular plaintiff was an hourly employee of Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare, with dates of employment given; none of those affirmations, however, discloses the nature of the particular plaintiff's employment. Hamelin Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-9) ¶ 2; Flint Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-10) ¶ 2; Roberts Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-11) ¶ 2; Winn Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-12) ¶ 2; Myers Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-13) ¶ 2; Griffin Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-14) ¶ 2; Angell Aff. (Dkt. No. 18-15) ¶ 2.

The information provided by the plaintiffs regarding the several named defendants is equally scant. In one paragraph of their complaint plaintiffs list the twenty-seven defendants and allege that they "are related organizations through, for example, common membership, governing bodies, trustees and/or officers and benefit plans." Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 14. According to the plaintiffs, defendants operate various health care facilities and centers, including St. Luke's Home, St. Luke's Hospital, Campus, Allen-Calder Home and Rehabilitation, Regional Renal Dialysis Center, Mohawk Valley Vascular Center, Burrstone Road Medical Office, The Imaging Center, Faxton Campus, The Regional Cancer Center Faxton Campus, Comprehensive Breast Care Center Faxton Campus, Regional Rehabilitation Center, Barneveld Medical Office/Imaging Center, Boonville Medical Office, Harding Nursing Home, Cooperative Magnetic Imaging Center, Herkimer Regional Cancer Center (Herkimer Satellite MVN Medical Arts Center), Mohawk Valley Division Primary Care, Mohawk Valley Division Dental Services, Little Falls Dialysis Satellite, New Hartford Medical Office, North Utica Medical Office, Oneida Dialysis Satellite, Poland Medical Office, Rome Regional Cancer Center Satellite, Rome Regional Dialysis Satellite, Mohawk Glen Center for Community Health, Washington Mills Medical Office, Waterville Medical Office, Whitesboro Medical Office, Folts Home & Mohawk Valley Nursing Home, Center for Addiction Recovery and MVN Medical Center. Id. ¶17. Plaintiffs' complaint also alleges that defendant Keith A. Fenstemacher is the President of Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare, with responsibility to manage the various health care operations referenced, and that defendant Anthony Scibelli, as Vice President of Human Resources, has autonomy in overseeing various facets of those operations, including payroll and compensation services.*fn1 Id. ¶¶ 24-71.

Defendants' submissions fill some of these voids. According to the defendants, Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare operates two separate hospitals, including at the Faxton campus, in Utica, New York, and the St. Luke's campus, located in New Hartford, New York, employing 2360 hourly workers at the two facilities, some of whom are unionized, while others are not, occupying some 280 different jobs. Scibelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-29) ¶¶ 3, 4, 23. Defendant St. Luke's Home operates a separate residential facility, employing approximately 321 hourly workers. Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶ 3.

Defendants' opposition papers also supply some of the missing information regarding the plaintiffs, including in particular the seven who have provided affirmations in support of plaintiffs' motion for collective action certification. Two of those individuals, Frances Roberts and Rakiesha Griffin, were previously employed at the St. Luke's Home, Ms. Roberts as a licensed practical nurse ("LPN"), and Ms. Griffin as a certified nurse's assistant ("CNA"). Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶¶ 1, 18; Kirkland Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-13) ¶¶ 1, 14. Plaintiff Dawn Hamelin is a former employee who worked as an LPN in the Cardiopulmonary Services Unit of Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare. Belmont Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-5) ¶¶ 1, 16. Christopher Myers is a registered nurse ("RN") who was employed in the Emergency Department of Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare. Tarnacki Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-9) ¶¶ 1, 12. Diana Angell and Sharon Winn are both former employees who worked in the Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare Ambulatory Services Unit at the Faxton Campus; the information supplied by the parties does not disclose their positions at the facility. Cardarelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-14) ¶¶ 1, 12, 14. The last of the seven affiants, Julie Flint, is an LPN who once worked in the Oncology Unit at Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare. Hilterbran Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-25) ¶¶ 1, 13.

Both Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare and St. Luke's Home utilize a computerized time-keeping and payroll system known as Kronos. Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶ 5; Scibelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-29) ¶ 8. In accordance with established practices at those facilities, an hourly employee who works a shift of six hours or more in duration is entitled to a thirty-minute unpaid meal break, which supervisors and managers are to ensure is available to employees each day. Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶ 7; Scibelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-29) ¶ 10. The Kronos program automatically deducts thirty minutes from an employee's paycheck for that meal break, thereby obviating the need for clocking in and out during the break. Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶ 8; Scibelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-29) ¶ 12.

Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare has a written policy, requiring employees to be compensated when they work through their meal breaks. Under the policy, when that occurs the employee must complete a form and provide it to his or her supervisor, who then enters the information into the Kronos system to effectuate cancellation of the automatic meal period deduction initiated by that program and ensure appropriate payment for the additional time worked. Scibelli Aff. (Dkt. No. 47-29) ¶ 12. This procedure is outlined in the Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare employee handbook and its administrative manual, and additionally is imparted to employees during their initial orientation sessions. Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.

According to its Director of Human Resources, Patricia Boulerice, St. Luke's Home also utilizes the Kronos system, and requires an employee who works through a scheduled meal period to complete a form and give it to his or her supervisor. Boulerice Aff. (Dkt. No. 47) ¶ 8. The appropriate nurse manager or department director is then directed to enter that information into the Kronos program to override the meal period deduction. Id.


The three originally named plaintiffs commenced this action on November 13, 2008. Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiffs' complaint sets forth five separate causes of action, alleging 1) violation of the FLSA; 2) violation of the New York Labor Law; 3) violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. ("ERISA"), for failure to keep accurate records; 4) breach of fiduciary duty, also in violation of ERISA; and 5) estoppel. Since commencement of the action, a total of one hundred six individuals claiming to be present or former hourly employees of one or more of the defendants have consented to join in the action as plaintiffs. Dkt. Nos. 14-17, 20, 22, 25, 54, 58.

On December 4, 2008, plaintiffs moved to certify this matter as a collective action.*fn2 Dkt. No. 18. Hand-in-hand with that motion is an application for a court order requiring disclosure by defendants of the identities of the potential opt-in plaintiffs, accompanied by other personal information, and a request that a court-approved notice be sent to the listed current and former hourly employees of the defendants. Id. Plaintiffs' application for preliminary collective action certification, which is vigorously opposed by the various defendants who have thus far appeared in the action, is now fully briefed, and is before me for decision.*fn3*fn4


A. Controlling Legal ...

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